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San Diego, California, January 9-11, 2003

Economic Integration and Mexico-US Migration:
A Conference Report
Philip Martin and Michael Teitelbaum
January 30, 2003

Table 1. Agents and Apprehensions, Mexico-US Border, FY1993-2002 13
Table 2. Mexico and US Population and Labor Force, 1970-2000 14
Table 3. Unauthorized Foreigners in the US: 1980-2000 15

The 11th Migration Dialogue seminar, held January 9-11, 2003 in San Diego, provided an opportunity for European and American opinion leaders to learn about Mexico-US migration management issues in a concrete setting. Mexico and the US were "distant neighbors" for much of the 20th century. Mexico had an import-substitution economic model until the mid-1980s, and the major economic link between Mexico and the US was the migration of rural Mexicans to rural America. During this time of limited trade, the treatment of Mexican migrants on US farms was a major issue, and was often the source of friction between the Mexican and US governments.

Mexico-US relations changed in the mid-1980s, after Mexico reoriented its economic policies, seeking to emulate the East Asian tiger economies by fostering export-oriented growth. The US sought to reduce illegal immigration by imposing sanctions on employers who knowingly hired unauthorized workers and by legalizing 2.3 million unauthorized Mexicans in the US in 1987-88 (representing almost three percent of all Mexicans). The change in Mexican economic policy accelerated changes underway in Mexico, including rural-urban migration, and increased legal and illegal Mexico-US migration, since the employer sanctions legislated by the US Congress in the 1980s were circumvented by document fraud and were not enforced effectively.

During the 1990s, both Mexico-US economic integration and Mexico-US migration increased. Economic integration, symbolized by the North American Free Trade Agreement that went into effect on January 1, 1994, helped bilateral trade to triple to almost $725 million a day, but Nafta also accelerated the restructuring of the Mexican economy and especially its agriculture in a manner that increased Mexico-US migration. The Mexican-born US population doubled in the 1990s, from 4.5 million to 9 million, and the rapid influx of Mexicans led to reactions in both countries. The US launched Operation Gatekeeper in 1994, a border control strategy that sought to deter unauthorized migrants with expanded INS personnel, physical barriers in the form of fences, and new lights along some otherwise dark border areas near urban areas. In 2000, the newly elected Mexican government of President Vincente Fox declared improvement of the status of Mexicans in the US its top foreign policy priority.

The purpose of this seminar was to explore the unfolding process of Mexico-US migration and economic integration in the San Diego-Tijuana area, to ask questions such as:
* whether economic forces are in place to stabilize and eventually reduce Mexico-US migration,
* whether Mexico can upgrade worker skills and maquiladora technologies fast enough to create jobs in Mexico for young Mexicans entering the labor force,
* whether US policies to facilitate legal migration and reduce unauthorized migration are having their desired effects.

The discussion centered on three themes. First was the difficulty of developing alternative employment in Mexico for people in regions that have been linked for decades to US jobs, to slow the traditional "go north for opportunity" response to problems in rural Mexico. Second, employment in Mexican maquiladoras peaked in 2000, and seems likely to decrease more as the maquiladoras that compete largely on price are closed and assembly-line work is moved to even lower-wage countries such as China and Indonesia. Third, there is a political consensus in the US to try to prevent the entry of unauthorized foreigners, but no consensus on stepping up employer sanctions enforcement.
Evolution of Mexico-US Migration

Spaniards arrived in Mexico in 1519, when there were five million to 25 million native American (Indian) residents. Many of the Indians died in fighting and from disease, and the population of present-day Mexico was estimated to be one million in 1600. By 1800, Mexico and the US had similar populations, six million, and Mexico's GDP per capita was about half that of the US. An 1848 Mexico-US war ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo, under which the US acquired most of the southwestern states, including California. By 1900, the US was far more populous than Mexico, with 76 million people compared to 15 million in Mexico, and US per capita income was eight times higher than in Mexico. In 2000, the US had 282 million residents and a GDP per capita of $34,300, Mexico had 100 million residents and a GDP per capita of $5,100, that is, a 7 to 1 ratio.

As a result of civil war and disease between 1910 and 1920, Mexico had only 20 million people in 1940, when a population explosion began that increased Mexico to 70 million by 1980. Mexico in the early 1970s had one of the world's fastest population growth rates, 3.5 percent a year, and the average Mexican woman had 6.2 children, which prompted the World Bank to project a Mexican population of 250 million by 2075. However, in April 1972 Mexico embarked on what became a very successful family planning campaign that sharply reduced fertility and population growth, to 2.9 babies per woman and a 2.1 percent population growth rate in 2002.

High Mexican birth rates from the 1940s through the 1970s produced rapid labor force growth and rising emigration pressures, but it was the US government that set Mexico-US migration flows in motion. In 1942, the US government authorized a "temporary wartime emergency" measure known as the Bracero program that allowed US farmers to recruit farm workers from Mexico. After the wartime emergency ended in 1945, the program continued, and expanded during the 1950s so that 300,000 to 400,000 Mexicans a year arrived. The US government made it easy for even illegal Mexicans to become legal farm workers— the process of legalizing such workers, even in US government publications, was termed "drying out the wetbacks." Between one and two million Mexicans gained US work experience before the Bracero program was terminated as part of the Civil Rights movement in 1964 . US unions, churches, and Latino groups convinced Congress that the presence of Braceros in the fields held down farm wages and impeded the upward economic mobility of US Hispanics.

Mexico during the Bracero period pursued a capital-intensive, import-substitution economic policy marked by rapid aggregate economic growth but producing relatively few well-paid formal-sector nonfarm jobs, especially outside the three largest cities: Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey. US farmers employing Braceros had to pay transportation costs from the place of recruitment to their farms, and Mexicans improved their chances of being selected as Braceros if they moved to the Mexico-US border to lower farmers' transportation costs. Many did, which resulted in very rapid growth of then-small border towns and cities such as Tijuana and left thousands of Mexicans living in the border area with few prospects for employment in the mid-1960s.

In a cooperative effort to provide jobs for these ex-Braceros, in 1965 the US and Mexican governments launched the Border Industrialization Program, which sought to stimulate the development of maquiladoras, foreign-owned assembly plants, by providing special exemptions from both Mexican and US policies. Mexico allowed US-made components to be imported without duties, and the US facilitated re-importation of goods assembled into finished products by Mexican workers—the US charged duty only on the value-added by Mexican workers in Mexico, typically 10 to 20 percent of the value of a product such as a television. The maquiladora program expanded slowly, and never provided many jobs for ex-Braceros—maquiladora operators preferred to hire young women, whereas almost all Braceros were men. In 1965, there were 12 maquiladoras employing 3,000 workers, and it took 15 years until maquiladora employment surpassed 100,000.

In the late 1970s, large oil and gas deposits were discovered in Mexico, and the Mexican government went on a borrowing spree, with loans from US banks backed by anticipated oil revenues. Much of this borrowed money was squandered, and when the price of oil plunged in the early 1980s, Mexico could not repay its $60 billion foreign debt. The peso was devalued sharply, the Mexican government nationalized the banks, real wages fell and emigration pressures increased, and maquiladora employment increased in response to lower wages. In the mid-1980s, the Mexican government dramatically changed its economic model as foreign debt approached $100 billion and inflation exceeded 100 percent a year. Mexico switched from import-substitution to export-oriented growth, joined GATT and the OECD, and in 1990 proposed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—in effect, Mexico decided to integrate its economy with that of the US.

NAFTA went into effect on January 1, 1994, but the process of North American economic integration has been very uneven. Mexico, whose GDP is about the size of Florida, averaged 3.1 percent economic growth in the 1990s, while the US averaged 3.4 percent growth. Mexico had years in which GDP rose by seven percent, and years when GDP fell by seven percent. Since 1994, real wages fell in Mexico, and lower wages encouraged the expansion of maquiladora employment to 1.3 million workers, a third of the manufacturing work force. However, opening the Mexican economy to US goods displaced workers in agriculture as well as in labor-intensive manufacturing—in the late 1980s, textile and shoe employment fell over 30 percent. Mexico-US immigration increased sharply— the number of Mexican-born persons in the US doubled in the 1990s, from 4.5 million to nine million, and most of the 1990s arrivals were unauthorized.

Migration was a central and often troublesome feature of Mexico-US relations during most of the 20th century. There were incidents during the 1950s when, for example, Mexico attempted to block the exit of Braceros to the US to protest discrimination and poor working conditions, and the US removed the Border Patrol to allow the entry of Mexican farm workers. Mexico and the US today are much closer neighbors. US President George W. Bush has asserted several times that the US "has no more important relationship in the world than the one we have with Mexico." Mexican President Vicente Fox wants deeper economic integration, culminating in a North American community with freedom of movement.

Mexican politics have changed. In 2000, Mexico elected its first president in 70 years from a party other than the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and President Fox declared improving conditions for Mexican migrants in the US his government's top foreign priority. Mexico pushed hard for a "whole enchilada" migration policy package in 2001— legalization for unauthorized Mexicans in the US, a new guest-worker program as a way to reduce deaths and violence along the border, and changes in US law that would exempt Mexico from the immigrant visa ceilings that apply to all other countries. Just before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Fox said: "The time has come to give migrants and their communities [in the US] their proper place in the history of our bilateral relations…we must, and we can, reach an agreement on migration before the end of this very year...[2001, so that] there are no Mexicans who have not entered this country legally in the United States, and that those Mexicans who come into the country do so with proper documents."

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks stopped the momentum for a new Mexico-US migration agreement. As unemployment rose in the US, the focus shifted from the "US need" for Mexican workers to "President Fox's need" for some type of new migration agreement to demonstrate that his pro-American stance benefited Mexico. Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda resigned in January 2003, citing his inability "to achieve faster and more concrete results in implementing new ideas about migration" with the US.

Today, Mexico-US migration and economic integration are at a crossroads. Many observers say that the answer is to deepen NAFTA, to add a migration and social dimension to the current trade agreement. Others say that Mexico must approve difficult but necessary internal reforms, including reforming the tax system to increase government revenues (taxes are only 11 percent of GDP, compared to 20 percent in the US). There are also looming crises in the energy and electricity sectors that can be resolved only with additional investment, which is likely to be forthcoming only if these sectors are deregulated and privatized. Finally, the Mexican government is under pressure to ease the adjustments occurring in the countryside by providing more support to farmers.

The migration issue is being discussed in Mexico, the US, and at bilateral forums. Within the US, there are three major US policy options being debated: guest workers, legalization, and earned legalization. The policy most likely to win approval is some form of earned legalization, under which some unauthorized Mexicans in the US would be granted a temporary legal status that can be converted to an immigrant status within three to six years. Among the many details to be worked out are whether such a program would apply only to Mexicans or to all unauthorized foreigners in the US, how much work would be required during the transition to immigrant status, and the status of spouses and dependents of earned-legalization immigrants.
Migration and Development

Mexico's population doubled between 1970 and 2000, from 53 million to 100 million, while the number of Mexican-born US residents increased ten-fold, from less than 800,000 to 8.5 to 9 million. Over the past 30 years, Mexicans pioneered what has become the "normal" way to immigrate to the US—arrive with some temporary status, often unauthorized, and later find a way to adjust to permanent immigrant status.

Both Mexico and the US want to make mass Mexico-US migration unnecessary for economic reasons by substituting trade in goods for the migration of workers. There is general agreement that the durable solution to unauthorized Mexico-US migration is job and wage growth in Mexico, but there is also a consensus that significant Mexico-US migration will continue for at least another decade. The policy issue is how to manage migration during this period of increased emigration pressure, the "migration hump". The migration hump projects rising Mexico-US migration during Mexican economic restructuring, followed by declining migration when there are more high-wage manufacturing jobs and fewer poor farmers.

Increased Mexico-US migration--the hump—was very noticeable in the 1990s, and the question is whether the peak has already been reached. The position on the hump has important implications for the policy options being debated. If Mexico-US migration pressures are still increasing, then launching a new guest worker or legalization program could further increase Mexico-US migration, as new areas in Mexico begin sending migrants to the US as guest workers, or if those in traditional areas become convinced that the best way to benefit from legalization is to migrate illegally to the US.

Both long- and short-term variables determine the current location on the migration hump. The key long-term variables are Mexican fertility and job creation rates; key short-term variables are economic conditions in agriculture and the ability of migration networks and smugglers to evade tougher border enforcement. The direction of the fertility variable is clear--the number of persons turning 15 each year is expected to drop by 50 percent between 1995 and 2010, from about one million a year to 500,000 a year. Declining fertility reduces Mexico-US migration directly as well as indirectly, because households with fewer children tend to keep them in school longer, which reduces the need to create as many jobs for young people. Most US-bound migrants have little education--the probability of migration to the US is lower among the better-educated in Mexico.

The second key variable is job growth, which depends on economic growth. The ratio between economic and job growth in Mexico is about 2 to 1, so that five percent annual economic growth is associated with 2.5 percent job growth, or 750,000 new jobs a year on an employment base of 30 million. However, this ratio also operates in reverse, so that the number of jobs shrinks in recession. This is what happened in 2001: President Fox promised to create 1.3 million new formal sector jobs, but employment shrank by 400,000. If Mexico could sustain six to seven percent economic growth, as East Asian nations did, economic growth could create enough jobs to absorb new labor force entrants and begin to reduce under-employment among Mexican workers. Notwithstanding its large oil resources, Mexico needs substantial foreign investment to achieve robust economic and job growth.

In the late 1990s, when the Mexican and US economies were booming, it seemed easy to imagine that Mexico-US migration hump was on the downward side of the migration hump—still high, but falling fast. After the 2001-02 recession in both countries, the strains evident in agriculture, continued smuggling, and the movement of some plants from Mexico to China, there is less confidence about where Mexico-US migration is on the hump. Thus, a brief review of agriculture, networks, and the China threat is warranted.


Agriculture in Mexico has been in "crisis" for the past 15 years, as the Mexican government reduced input subsidies and output price supports while opening to trade, which brought cheaper foreign farm commodities into Mexico. Some six to eight million Mexicans are employed in agriculture. Farmers and farm workers are 20 to 25 percent of total employment. Yet agriculture generates less than five percent of Mexican GDP, which means that most rural Mexicans have per capita incomes that are much less than the $5,100 national average.

Mexicans were tied to the land for generations by government input subsidies and output price supports as well as a unique land tenure system, known as ejidos. The Mexican revolution was fought in part to provide land for the peasants, and since the 1930s large haciendas have been broken up and land redistributed to peasants in parcels of nine to 45 acres. Ejido farmers could work the land individually or collectively, and bequeath it to their heirs, but could not sell it or use it as collateral for loans. Some Mexican migrants in the US rented out their land, although by so doing they ran a risk of losing their rights to it.

Beginning in the late 1980s, Mexico began to change its farm policies, reducing input subsidies and then in 1992 amending Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution to allow the sale or rental of ejido land. In 1993, the Mexican government replaced output price supports with direct payments to farmers under the Procampo program. The hope was that freeing up the land market would allow Mexicans in the US to sell or rent their land to more efficient resident producers. They in turn could mechanize and change crops to take advantage of lower wages to produce fruits, vegetables and flowers, and thereby generate jobs in rural Mexico. Unfortunately, it has proven very difficult to produce, pack, and export sufficient volumes of high-quality labor-intensive commodities to create large numbers of high-wage jobs in rural Mexico.

Mexico has been slow to take advantage of its comparative advantage in labor-intensive crops, but the US comparative advantage in capital-intensive production of grains and meats is already apparent. On January 1, 2003, Mexican tariffs on all US farm commodities except corn, sugar, and dairy products ended. In anticipation of increased competition, Mexican farmers' organizations, prompted by the opposition PRI party, staged noisy protests in December 2002 seeking additional Mexican government support, especially for pork and chicken farmers. US farm exports to Mexico have risen, giving the US an agricultural trade surplus with Mexico in the 1990s, while the US had an agricultural trade deficit with Canada.

Mexican agricultural policy changes and NAFTA have compressed the period of large-scale rural-urban migration in Mexico. In the US, the great migration off the land was concentrated in the period 1945-1970—a million people a year left the farm during this quarter century. In rural Mexico, many young people see that they will not have a prosperous future in farming, and have been moving out of rural areas to provincial Mexican capitals, to maquiladoras along the border, and to the US. The Mexican villages these youthful migrants leave behind are dominated, in the words of some observers, by "nurseries and nursing homes," and their lack of both infrastructure and young workers thus becomes a vicious circle that makes it very hard to invest remittances and other jobs in migrant areas of origin.

Networks and Migrant Diffusion

The Bracero program brought Mexicans from west-central Mexico to the southwestern US states because north-south rail lines ran through west-central Mexico, and agriculture in the southwestern US states was expanding in the 1950s when the Bracero program was at its peak. The west-central states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Zacatecas remain major places of origin for Mexican migrants. However, migration networks have diffused within Mexico, and Mexicans in the US are diffusing across states, industries, and occupations.

A modernizing Mexico marked by inequality— more jobs in the north and in urban areas— has been attracting more Mexicans into internal and international migration networks in the 1990s. In the US, the single most important factor spreading Mexicans around the country was the legalization of 2.3 million Mexicans in 1987-88. There were two legalization programs: one for Mexicans unlawfully resident in the US for at least five years and another for Mexicans who had done at least 90 days of farm work in 1985-86. The second legalization, called the Special Agricultural Worker (SAW) program, was based on the false premise that rural Mexicans only wanted to work seasonally in the US, so only unauthorized farm workers and not their families were legalized.

Most SAWs were married men—typical was a 28-year old with three or four children. The 1990s changes in the Mexican countryside encouraged many SAWs to settle in the US and send for their families to join them via unauthorized entries, especially because US family fairness and similar policies sent very mixed messages about how tough the US would be on unauthorized migrants. This provoked political backlash in California, which accounted for half of the SAW applicants and was in its worst recession in 50 years in the early 1990s. The backlash took the form of a 1994 ballot referendum known as Proposition 187, to establish state-funded screening system to prevent unauthorized foreigners from accessing state-funded services, including K-12 schools. Proposition 187 was passed by a large margin in the referendum ballot, but its implementation was blocked by a Federal district judge. In 1996, some of its restrictions on non-US citizen access to welfare were implemented in federal laws.

The California economy recovered more slowly than did the rest of the US economy in the 1990s, and very low unemployment rates in the Midwest led to the recruitment by farmers and meatpackers of Mexican workers resident in California. Pioneer migrants recruited friends and relatives to join them in meatpacking, construction, and service jobs outside the southwest, and US employers were happy to turn recruitment, screening, and training over to migrant networks that relied on currently employed workers to recruit, screen, and train new workers. In less than five years, Mexican migrants became significant fractions of labor forces from Maine to Georgia, and from Delaware to Iowa. Earnings from such low-paid but often year-round jobs in these places, with their low costs of living, enabled many migrants to buy houses and have their families join them.

Within Mexico, migration streams also diversified. Most noticeable was the movement of non-Spanish speaking migrants, such as Mixtecs and Zapotecs from Oaxaca and Chiapas, who began arriving in the US in the 1990s. In this case, internal Mexican migration eventually became Mexico-US migration, as the Mixtecs and Zapotecs recruited to fill seasonal jobs in export-oriented agriculture in northern Mexico continued on to the US when they were laid off in April-May. In this case, expanded agricultural production for the US helped to bring Mixtecs and Zapotecs to the US as well.

Today there are migrants from each of Mexico's 31 states in each of the 50 US states. Mexico serves its citizens in the US with 43 consulates, apparently the most consulates one country has in another. Mexican government attitudes and policies toward migrants in the US have changed markedly, with President Fox frequently calling the migrants heroes for the $9 billion in remittances they send home. Mexico in the 1990s permitted dual nationality, so that Mexicans who become naturalized US citizens no longer lose rights in Mexico, and promoted the matricula consular, a Mexican consulate-issued photo ID that has become increasingly necessary to enter government buildings in the US or fly on an airplane.

Nafta, Maquiladoras and Jobs

There were many hoped-for side effects, including reduced Mexico-US migration. NAFTA got off to a rocky start, as Mexico suffered a Zapatista uprising January 1, 1994, the PRI presidential candidate was assassinated in March 1994, and there were cries of fraud after the elections of July 1994 that brought Ernesto Zedillo to power. As Zedillo took office in December 1994, a currency crisis and peso devaluation led to a recession and sharp drop in employment in 1995.

The Mexican economy recovered in 1996, and Mexico enjoyed its best five years of economic and job growth between 1996 and 2000. The economy grew, exports rose, and the labor market became more formal, as more jobs were included in the social security (IMSS) system. Labor force participation rates fell, reflecting more schooling and less work by teens. However, the late 1990s were also marked by more regional and other inequalities within Mexico— the north and those involved with the export sector did far better than the south and those involved with the domestic market—and thus accelerated displacement and internal migration, especially from the poorest states such as Oaxaca and Chiapas.

Mexico needs foreign savings--foreign investment--to create jobs. Foreign savers invest where they see opportunities for the highest returns, and during the 1990s, Mexico was seen as one of the most attractive developing countries for foreign investment. Most of the foreign investment was from the US and Asian countries such as Japan and Korea, and much of it flowed into the auto industry and into maquiladoras that assembled electronics and apparel.

Foreign investment that leads to the construction of factories generally creates permanent jobs; portfolio investment seeking high returns, on the other hand, can quickly leave a country if there is a threat of devaluation or the prospect of better returns elsewhere. Some of the foreign investment in Mexico was portfolio investment, and Mexican and foreign investors in the tumultuous year of 1994 began converting pesos to dollars at the fixed 3.45 pesos to $1 rate because they feared a peso devaluation. By December 1994, Mexico ran out of reserves to support the peso at this rate and devalued, leading to a crisis that saw the economy shrink by seven percent in 1995. The US provided financial assistance to stabilize the Mexican economy and, as President Clinton said "to better protect our borders."

Mexico recovered from the 1995 crisis, but wages fell sharply in dollar terms, and have not yet recovered to 1993 levels. These low Mexican wages in the late 1990s attracted foreign investors who almost doubled the number of maquiladora jobs between 1995 and 2001, from 675,000 to 1.3 million--maquiladora jobs account for a third of Mexican manufacturing jobs. Some 80 to 85 percent of workers in maquiladoras are "direct hires" or assembly-line workers—the other 15 to 20 percent are engineers or managers and workers with technical skills. For 48-hour work weeks—often 9.5 hours a day five days a week— gross wages are about $96 a week or $2 an hour, and net wages are $1.50 an hour— similar workers in the US earn about $8 an hour.

Maquiladoras create jobs, but do they generate stay-at-home development? Most maquiladora workers are young women, many of whom finished school at age 12 to 14 and are in their first jobs in maquiladoras at age 16 to 20. Most receive heavily subsidized transportation to the factories in which they assemble auto parts, apparel, footwear, and other consumer goods, and heavily subsidized meals. However, wages and benefits are similar between maquiladoras, and worker turnover is very high—often five to 15 percent a month, or 50 to 150 percent a year, so that two workers must be hired during a year to keep one assembly line job filled. Such high worker turnover discourages investment in training to increase worker skills and productivity.

Maquiladoras are controversial, criticized for offering low wages to young women while polluting the environment. Plant managers say they prefer local workers, but internal migrants have become an ever-bigger share of the maquiladora work force because many local workers shun the maquiladoras' low wages for repetitive work. There is much discussion of hiring more men and more highly skilled technical workers, but most assembly-line workers remain women with sixth-grade education doing simple hand-assembly tasks. There is also concern about the inadequate storage of hazardous wastes around the plants, which are often on steep hillsides so that rainwater can wash them into shantytowns nearby.

Most maquiladoras remain isolated enclaves in the Mexican economy, contributing primarily jobs and wages but little in the way of local procurement, because most components continue to be imported. Some maquilas now buy components from others, which may suggest a trend toward deepening links between them and the rest of the economy. About 40 percent of the maquiladoras compete primarily on price, and the 2001-02 recession showed that maquiladora employment can fall just when other jobs also disappear, making them poor economic shock absorbers.

There are a growing number of exceptions to this picture of footloose assembly operations seeking out low-wage workers. Such exceptions are most visible in the auto industry. Auto parts makers such as Delphi have both engineering and production facilities in Mexico, and are moving up the value chain from assembly to research and development. Similar efforts are underway among some electronics manufacturers. Yet perhaps half of the maquiladora jobs continue to exist primarily because of low wages. There is general agreement that Mexico must upgrade the skills and productivity of its maquila and other workers, and the technologies they work with, so that employers can pay them higher wages and still remain competitive. This is a challenge, because Mexico still spends relatively little on K-12 education, and many children continue to drop out after primary school.

Maquiladoras are also controversial in the US, and their growth in the 1990s seemed to vindicate the prediction of 1992 Reform Party presidential candidate Ross Perot, who asserted that Nafta would lead to a "giant sucking sound" of US jobs moving to Mexico for lower wages. There were periodic announcements of US plants closing and their production shifting to Mexico, but US worker protests were muted by US adjustment assistance and the booming US economy.

Mexican maquiladora employment fell by 250,000 in 2001-02 because of the US recession, an increasingly strong peso, and the shift of some jobs to even lower-wage countries, especially China. There is little information on what happened to jobless maquila workers, many of whom had migrated to the border regions from the interior of Mexico— did they return to their villages of origin, migrate on the US, or are they staying in the border area awaiting a rebound? Most observers note that, to pay the $1,000+ cost of a smuggler to illegally enter the US, it is better to have friends or relatives in the US provide a loan that can be repaid with US wages rather than try to save the smuggling fee from maquiladora wages of $15 a day. However, a year's employment at a maquiladora can qualify the worker to obtain a US border crossing card (known as the laser visa) that expedites legal entry.

Plamex, the Mexican subsidiary of Plantronics (PLT), illustrates this challenge at its communications headset facility in Tijuana. Based in Santa Cruz, California, Plantronics reported 2002 sales of $310 million and a total workforce of 2,600. Of these 1,700 are employed in a 240,000 square-foot complex in Tijuana that produces over 8,000 variants of headsets and handset products . About 85 percent of the Tijuana employees are assembly workers, usually women who work on 5-10 person assembly teams for gross wages of about $105 per 48-hour week, ($2.20 an hour) and net wages of $80 ($1.65). Most of the workers are internal migrants, many from the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Sonora.

Plantronics, which is almost always hiring, obtains most new workers as a result of referrals from current workers, who bring their family and relatives to work. Plantronics has lower than average turnover in because it makes extra efforts to have the workers (called associates) identify with Plantronics, issuing them business cards and putting their names on the chairs in which they sit.
The San Diego-Tijuana Region

The San Diego/Tijuana region has about four million people—2.9 million in San Diego and 1.1 million in Tijuana, making it the most populous area along the Mexico-US borders. Tijuana is growing much faster than San Diego. Tijuana in 1900 had fewer than 250 residents, and was not connected to the rest of Mexico by road or rail. In 1930, Tijuana had 30,000 residents and in 1980, 462,000—Tijuana has been growing by 70,000 to 80,000 residents a year.

Overall, the 2000-mile border area is at the same time one of the richest areas of Mexico, and one of the poorest areas of the US. San Diego is an exception, a prosperous US metropolitan area with an economy anchored by the military, tourism and high-tech industries, including biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, software and computer services. Many Mexican immigrants enter the US via San Diego, but only to pass through on the way to their destination of Los Angeles. In the 2000 census, San Diego county had 21 percent foreign-born residents, compared to 26 percent in California, and 33 percent spoke a language other than English at home, compared to 40 percent in California. San Diego county's GDP is estimated to be about $120 billion.

Tijuana accounts for about half the residents of the state of Baja California, whose capital is Mexicali. Baja is the state furthest from Mexico City, and was the first to elect a PAN opposition governor. The Tijuana economy is anchored by maquiladoras and tourism. Electronics dominate maquiladora assembly operations: the Tijuana Economic Development Corporation reported that there were 740 maquiladoras employing 172,000 workers in 2001, led by Sony, 6,500; Sanyo, 5,000; and Panasonic and Samsung, 4,000 each. Toyota has announced plans to build a truck assembly plant in the Tijuana area, and several aerospace firms have announced plans to move to the Tijuana region.

Port of Entry

Responsibility for controlling the entry of people across the US border from Mexico is divided between two units of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), an agency that moved in January 2003 from the Department of Justice to the new Federal Department of Homeland Security INS inspectors monitor entries at legally-established ports-of-entry, while the US Border Patrol attempts to prevent entries between the ports-of-entry. The San Diego/Tijuana border crossing is the world's busiest land border crossing, with about 50 million entries a year, 10 percent of the US total, reflecting the entry of 45,000 vehicles a day, with an average two occupants, plus 20,000 to 30,000 pedestrians. Since September 11, 2001, all entrants must show some form of ID, which has led to waits of more than an hour for both pedestrians and vehicles.

About 40,000 of the 150,000 entrants each day at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa ports-of-entry are frequent border crossers, who can pay $129 a year to enroll in the seven-year old Secure Electronic Network for Travelers' Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) system. SENTRI requires background checks and the placement of a transponder on the commuter's car. As the car enters a special lane and approaches the inspector, details of the pre-cleared traveler flash on the inspector's screen; waits for the 26,000 persons enrolled in California are typically less than 15 minutes.

There are two major types of attempted illegal migration at ports-of-entry—trying to hide people in vehicles, and pedestrians trying to cross with false or imposter documents. Suspicious vehicles are sent to secondary inspection, where sniffer dogs and a variety of inspection technologies are used to locate concealed people or drugs. Foreigners sometimes attempt entry by using legitimate documents that belong to someone else, making false claims to US citizenship, or using counterfeit or altered documents. The most common method is to use a legitimate border crossing card (laser visa) issued to Mexicans settled in Mexican border areas. The cards are stolen or rented to similar-looking persons who attempt to use them to enter the US.

Apprehensions of would-be illegal entrants at the San Diego POE peaked at 70,406 in FY00, were 47,970 in FY01, and 27,358 in FY02. Foreigners who have been apprehended many times in the company of different people are sometimes prosecuted as smugglers; 150 were prosecuted in FY02. However, in most cases, smugglers if convicted are sentenced to time already served pending trial, and are released and returned to Mexico.

Border Enforcement

In FY2000, the US Border Patrol apprehended a total of 1.8 million persons attempting to enter the US illegally between all ports-of-entry (it is important to note that the same person caught three times counts as three apprehensions), exceeding the previous peak in FY86. A large but unknown number of people, thought to number at least several hundred thousand, eluded Border Patrol agents and entered the US unlawfully, although some (again unknown) number of these unauthorized foreigners are believed to have departed after several months or years.

In 1993, the Border Patrol in El Paso experimented with a new approach to border management: deterrence. To deter migrants from attempting unauthorized entry, agents were stationed within sight of each other along the border separating El Paso and Juarez. Apprehensions fell sharply, as Mexicans were deterred from commuting illegally to jobs in El Paso or going to El Paso to commit petty crimes. However, Mexicans intending to migrate further inland went around El Paso to enter the US illegally (Bean et al. 1994).

In 1994, the INS expanded the deterrence strategy to most urban areas along the 2,000 mile Mexico-US border, adding agents, fencing (including a triple fence along a few miles of the 2000-mile border), video and thermal imaging surveillance systems, and lights to deter entries in urban areas. These measures clearly deterred entries in the urban areas where most had been occurring, and reduced crime in the border area, in effect calming what had been chaos.

The Southwest Border Strategy assumed that migrants, forced to attempt entry in desert and mountain areas, would not try or, if they did, they would be easier to apprehend. However, migrants turned to smugglers and continued to try to enter the US, bolstering the smuggling business--one million migrants paying $1,000 each would make smuggling a $1 billion a year business—and likely increasing deaths of migrants abandoned in mountains and deserts, an average one a day in the past several years. It is not clear when or if deterrence becomes the norm: the GAO concluded: "Although illegal alien apprehensions have shifted, there is no clear indication that overall illegal entry into the United States along the Southwestern border has declined." (GAO, 2001a, 28)

It is generally agreed that one effect of these deterrence strategies has been that unauthorized foreigners who enter the US stay longer, since they know that the costs and risks of unauthorized re-entry with the help of a smuggler have risen. Reduced circular migration may have contributed to more remittances being sent back to Mexico via banks, which might explain the sharp rise in remittances reported by the Bank of Mexico, from $5 billion in 1996 to $10 billion in 2002.

The INS's Border Patrol had a FY2000 budget was $1.2 billion, and 93 percent of its 9,096 agents in September 2000 were on the Mexico-US border, providing 11 million person-hours of border enforcement. The INS estimates it needs seven to 10 more years and 3,200-5,500 more agents, plus $450-560 million in spending on additional technology, to achieve control over the border (U.S. General Accounting Office. 2001b. pp7, 10).

It is clear that there is more political consensus to step up border patrols to prevent illegal entries, but there is less agreement that employer sanctions enforcement should be stepped up. There have been some successful experiments (called Vanguard in Midwestern meatpacking and Tarmac at some US airports) that show that interior enforcement can deter unauthorized worker employment. Nonetheless, while the number of Border Patrol agents increased 2.5 times between 1993 and 2002, the number of interior enforcement agents remained unchanged at 2,000. There is general agreement that unless and until there is an effective interior enforcement strategy, border controls alone are unlikely to prevent unauthorized entries.

Table 1. Agents and Apprehensions, Mexico-US Border, FY1993-2002

Border Patrol Agents and Apprehensions, Mexico-US Border, FY1990-2002
end of FY (Sept 30) 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
Border Patrol Agents 3,778 3,684 4,061 3,991 4,282 4,879 5,886 6,848 7,437 8,189 9,212 9,702 9,900
Apprehensions (mils) 1.2 1.2 1.3 1.2 1.0 1.3 1.5 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.6 1.2 0.9
Agents, 1993 =100 95 92 102 100 107 122 147 172 186 205 231 243 248
Apps, 1993 =100 96 99 104 100 81 105 124 113 125 132 136 99 77
Source: INS

When migrants do not succeed in reaching the US, some turn to Casa de Migrante, a hostel in Tijuana operated by the Scalabrini order of the Catholic Church. This hostel provides free accommodation and food for up to 220 male migrants. Stays are limited to 15 days, and would-be residents are screened to ensure that they are migrants rather than homeless residents of Tijuana. Begun for men heading north, the home now serves primarily men who are being deported from the US as criminal aliens—they usually return to Mexico with no money, and no means of returning to their homes. There are other such facilities for women and children in Tijuana.

Bean, Frank, et al. 1994. Illegal Mexican Migration and the United States/Mexico Border: The Effects of Operation Hold the Line on El Paso. Washington, D.C.: US Commission on Immigration Reform.

Binational Study on Migration. 1997. Migration between Mexico and the United States. Washington and Mexico City. Commission on Immigration Reform.

Martin, Philip L. 1993. Trade and Migration: NAFTA and Agriculture. Washington: DC: Institute for International Economics. October.

Migration News. Monthly. //

US General Accounting Office. 2001a. INS' Southwest Border Strategy: Resource and Impact Issues Remain After Seven Years. GAO-01-842. Washington: GAO, August 2.

US General Accounting Office. 2001b. Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Justice. GAO-01-250. January.
Table 2. Mexico and US Population and Labor Force, 1970-2000
Mexico and US Population and Labor Force, 1970-2000
Mexico US
Population (Mils)-1970 53 203
Labor Force (Mils)-1970 15 83
% of population 28% 41%
Population (Mils)-2000 100 281
Labor Force (Mils) 2000 40 141
% of population 40% 50%
Labor Force Increase 167% 70%
Formal Sector Jobs (Mils) 15 125
Filled by Mexicans 15 6
Employed in Ag (Mils) 6 3
Filled by Mexicans 6 2
Population (Mils)-2050 151 414
Labor Force (Mils) 2050 70 207
% of population 46% 50%
Labor Force Increase 174% 146%
Sources: US Census and Conapo, 2050 projections from PRB; IMSS

Table 3. Unauthorized Foreigners in the US: 1980-2000

Unauthorized Foreigners in the US: 1980-2000
Year Millions Annual Average Change
1980 3
1986 4 167,000
1989 2.5 -500,000
1992 3.9 467,000
1995 5 367,000
2000 8.5 700,000
Source: Jeff Passel, Urban Institute
About 2.7 million unauthorized foreigners were legalized in 1987-88